STARKVILLE, Miss.--As with the seasons he has monitored and recorded for so long, veteran Mississippi State professor Charles L. Wax quietly is changing to the next phase in his life: retirement.
At the end of the month, the Leflore County native and 1965 Greenwood High School graduate concludes a 35-year career at the university, as well as nearly 30 concurrent years of service as state climatologist. In that latter role, he officially has monitored Magnolia State climatic events and impacts, while leading innumerable public programs on those and related topics.
Wax is a Mississippi Delta Junior (now Community) College and Delta State University graduate who went on to complete master's and doctoral degrees in physical geography from Louisiana State University.
"Charlie," as he's known to most, joined what now is the MSU geosciences department as an assistant professor in 1978 and served as department head 1989-2001. Along the way, he has been honored by campus peers with an outstanding faculty award from the University Honors Council and a research award from the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.
MSU is home to a nationally recognized broadcast meteorology program and it was Wax who created and taught the first course way back in 1979. Since then--without interruption--he has taught the course every year.
"I noticed a glaring need for TV weather people to be better informed about weather," Wax recalled this week. As a result, he created the class "to get broadcast journalists to take the introductory course."
Always modest, Wax said he "certainly did not create the program by myself; many others contributed to its development and growth and I never would want anyone to think I take all the credit for myself."
Now enrolling nearly 250 undergraduate majors and 75 at the graduate level, MSU's broadcast meteorology program is offered both on campus and via distance learning systems.
"About 60-70 percent of all television weathercasters in the U.S. are from our department," he noted, with obvious pride. "Almost anywhere I go in this country, I can turn on the television and see a former student giving the local weather."
In addition to broadcast meteorology, the leadership of Wax and his colleagues enabled MSU to add what also is a nationally respected operational meteorology program. Today, that program regularly places graduates with the National Weather Service, private consulting firms, military branches, educational programs and other such venues.
"Our broadcast and operational meteorology students routinely win or place highly in the National Collegiate Weather Forecasting Contest," Wax said, adding that from 2008-2010 "we won three national championships in a row!"
Beyond the classroom, he has been active in a number of state, regional and national professional organizations, including the Mississippi Geographic Alliance and Association of American Geographers. Additionally, he has led the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Southern Region Research Committee for Climatology in Agricultural Production and the American Association of State Climatologists.
Clearly, Wax has enjoyed the teaching, research and service roles he has filled for three decades at the land-grant institution.
As with weather cycles, Wax said, "Every semester or year brought the chance to start anew in one or all of those areas of the job. The chance to work with so many high-quality faculty, staff and students has made coming to work every day a joy, never a burden."
As another point of pride, Wax leaves knowing departmental colleague Mike Brown is succeeding him as state climatologist.
A University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill doctoral graduate, Brown is an associate professor whose teaching and research are focused on land-surface and atmosphere interactions.
"The state climatologist position will remain in the MSU geosciences department," Brown said.